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Armenian Genocide: Genocide-Ch27 1

Armenian Genocide: Genocide-Ch27 1



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Published by hayeren
Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing and Nationalism - Daniele Conversi

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Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing and Nationalism - Daniele Conversi

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Published by: hayeren on Aug 05, 2009
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Genocide and nationalism share commonetymological roots:genocide derives fromthe ancient Greek
(stirp,race,kind,cate-gory,overlapping with class,tribe and people),subsequently leading to the Latin
Nationalism comes from the Latin verb
nascor,nasci ,natus sum
(to be born),later leading tothe substantive
.The suffix
,from the Latin
(to cut (down) or kill),has been added ontothe Greek root.
The world itselfwas coinedin 1944 by the Polish-born US jurist RaphaelLemkin (1944:19).A new term needed indeedto be minted as humanity emerged from acrime without historical antecedents,theHolocaust (Hebrew,
).Since the combi-nation ofgenocide and nationalism character-ized the darkest era ofhuman history andoccurred during the past century,both areoften associated with modernity and rapidly modernizing societies.Moreover,both relate toa third set ofterms also describing commondescent and membership in a single ‘extendedfamily’:ethnicity,‘ethnieand ethnic group.In its original Greek connotation,
wasalready associated with the idea ofshareddescent and lineage.
The term ‘ethnic cleans-ing’has various origins,but its contemporary popular usage is a verbatim translation of the Serbian
etnicko ciscenje 
,which began tobe used widely in the global media sincethe 1990s.Initially,it was a more ‘benignway to describe the same unspeakable event,genocide.The exaltation ofa dominant nation as supe-rior to all others,particularly subaltern groups,inevitably leads to a series ofdiscriminatory acts against competing nations,ranging fromassimilation and marginalization to genocide.The role ofcentral governments and the mili-tary appears to be crucial in most instances of genocide,together with media censorship andpopular misinformation.Since they developed often simultaneously,acrucial question arises:how intense is the rela-tionship between nationalism and genocide?Nationalism is the doctrine that ‘the rulersshould belong to the same ethnic (that is,national) group as the ruled’(Gellner 1983:1).The doctrine assumes that a ruler belonging toan alien nationality or ethnic group is illegiti-mate (Connor 2004).However,the inverseformula is a sure recipe for ethnic cleansing,forced assimilation,mass deportation andgenocide:to claim that the inhabitants ofa spe-cific constituency must share the same ethniclineage ofits leaders is to give
carte blanche 
tomass expulsion and the drastic re-drawing of 
Genocide, Ethnic Cleansingand Nationalism
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boundaries to suit the group’s pedigree.Nationalism also holds that ‘nation and politicalpower should be congruent’(Gellner 1983:1).This longing for congruence,or ethnopoliticalpurity,is the historical hallmark ofmostnationalist attempts to erase ethnic distinctive-ness by homogenizing entire populations.Nationalism was generally accompanied by assimilationism which,in turn,entailed aneffort to absorb or eliminate cultural minorities.The very intolerant nature ofthe assimilation-ist modern state has created the preconditionsfor turning its unprecedented powers againsthapless minorities (van den Berghe 1990,1992).This was made easier by the fact thatnationalist mobilizations were either usheredor accompanied by state militarism.Henceethnopolitical,ideological and religious oppo-sition was marginalized and reconceivedwithin a ‘discipline and punish’framework(Foucault 1991).Probably,the earliest avatar ofthis tragictrend was the Armenian genocide (Melson1996).Large pogroms had already occurred in1894–96,when Westernizing nationalismemerged as an influential force,first in theBalkans,then among Turkish elites.But the1914–16 mass extermination campaigns wereunprecedented by any humanly acceptable andrecognizable standard.This was a direct conse-quence ofrapidly modernizing state structuresemulating Western models and the ensuing col-lapse ofempire (see also Mazower 1999,2001;McCarthy 1996).
In other words,the OttomanEmpire was then living under the simultaneousimpact ofmassive Westernization accompaniedby territorial losses.Turkish nationalism devel-oped amongst the returning diaspora,particu-larly refugees from the Balkans and Russia.These refugees often mimicked ‘modernizing’nationalism,particularly in the latter case(Lieven 2000:134).Westernization materialized also in the formofvictorious secessionist movements mobiliz-ing their peoples behind ethnic banners andattacking the empire from within – althoughthey were most often supported from abroad.Young Turk army officials fought against suc-cessful nationalist uprisings in the Balkans andended up imitating them – while forging linkswith German and other Western nationalists.So the Young Turks movement was inspiredby,and mimicked,its post-1789 Westernarchetypes.Paradoxically,the main victims oTurkey’s secular and anti-Islamic nationalismwere non-Muslim minorities which had previ-ously enjoyed protection and prosperity underthe more liberal ‘consociationallaws oftheOttoman Empire (Mann 2005:62,114–19;Nimni 2005:10,79).
The twentieth century has been widely recog-nized as the century ofnationalism and geno-cide.Most historians and social scientistsare in concordance on this grim assessment of the past century (see Carmichael 2005;Hobsbawm 1995;Kuper 1981;Levene 2000,2005b;Melson 1996;Shaw 2003):Never beforehas mass killing been carried out on such a vastscale and in such a short span oftime.Nationalism has become a truly ‘global’political movement and the dominant ideol-ogy ofmodernity.From its European core,it has slowly shifted and mutated,adaptingits chameleonic shape according to geography and history.Thus,the modern itinerary ogenocide follows the trail ofnationalism andWesternizing modernity.The connection between Westernization,modernity,war and genocide has become rela-tively established in academia.These historicaldevelopments are strictly related to state forma-tion in an age ofmilitarized nationalism.Thus,many Holocaust scholars describe genocide asan entirely modern and Western event withits unprecedented systematicity and techno-bureaucratic dimension (Bauman 1989).TheFrench historian Léon Poliakov (1974) arguedthat the Holocaust was legitimized as a triumphofWestern civilization,the latter being con-ceived in terms ofracial superiority against spu-rious Oriental,non-Western influences whichcould imperil civilization from within and leadto its fatal decadence.Genocide is thereforeintensively related to European inter-state
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rivalry,government expansion,imperialism andthe state’s intrusion into the private realm viathe consolidation ofcentral power.Patriotismand nationalism provided its ideological glueand emotional underpinning.The correlation between nationalism andmodernity largely depends on how the latter isdefined.Whether we identify modernity entirely within the philosophical (Enlightenment andpost-Enlightenment),the political (FrenchRevolution),the economic (ascent ofthe bour-geoisie),the scientific (Darwinism) or the tech-nological (Industrial Revolution) sphere,we canfind each ofthem well represented withinradical nationalism,particularly Nazism.Thelatter was indeed inconceivable without,oroutside,modernity as intended in any oftheabove senses:it can be associated with the spreadofJacobin-inspired centralism and state idolatry,the protection ofbourgeois interests,the diffu-sion ofonly-the-fittest-survive’logic,and,finally,massive industrialization.This brings us to the role ofthe modernstate and its bureaucratic-military machine.Basically,two trends have confronted eachother in genocide studies:the ‘strong-state’thesis (Rummel 1994,2003;Harff1986;Harff and Gurr 1988;Horowitz 1980) and the ‘weak-statethesis (Bloxham 2003;Mann 2005;Mommsen 1997).The former,often identifiedas the intentionalist explanation,argues thatgenocide is rooted in the absolute concentra-tion ofpower into the hands oftiny elites.Thelatter,or functionalist explanation,diagnosesits emergence in the collapse ofempire,statedisintegration,political chaos and other formsofstate ‘weakness.One view concentrateson the intention to kill,the other on the chain ocircumstances as they unfold independently from full governmental control.The structure–agency debate remains in fact a substantialcleavage in the literature.However,it should be noted that the twoapproaches are not incompatible.What mattersis the subjective perception ofweakness experi-enced by state elites,rather than any actual‘weaknessto be objectively measured.Forinstance,‘paranoid’leaders,such as SaddamHussein,Stalin and the Young Turks,tended toradicalize their oppressive policies out ofsheerfear ofarmed mutinies and defenestration.Toengage rogue elements ofthe army and theparty in mounting spirals ofmassacres andcounter-massacres provided a vital ‘safety valve’for the continuity and survival ofthese leaders.But even the Reign ofTerror during the FrenchRevolution could be seen as a sign ofstate weak-ness or paranoid leadership.Yet,the sheer powerofthe state’s bureaucratic machine contributedto mass murder on an unprecedented scale,suchas the Vendée massacre (1793–94).French his-torians have debated whether this can bedefined as the first modern genocide or ‘populi-cide(Lebrun 1985).State power was indeedfurther emboldened by nationalist fervour atthe very peak ofits ‘weakness’,leading to the first
levée en masse 
(August 1793).The impactofstate-led nationalist terror on ordinary people was in fact devastating.Hence,it is notthe state’s alleged ‘strengthor ‘weaknesswhichmatters,but the perception ofpersonal threatexperienced by state elites.Yet,in all ofthe documented cases ofgeno-cide,the power ofeven the ‘weakeststates wasunmatched in comparison with the inade-quate,futile means ofself-defence available toisolated rural communities and other haplesstargets ofgenocidal practices.Although most interpretations ofgenocidetend to be modernist or state-centred,it isessential to look briefly at the major alternativeexplanation linking genocide to the overseasexpansion ofWestern empires.Colonial geno-cides are therefore to be conceptually distin-guished from modern genocides.
Historically,genocide occurred in the wake of both imperial expansion and disintegration.Even before the conquest ofthe Americas,the fate ofthe indigenous Guanches ofthe‘Fortunate’Islands (present-day Canaries)anticipates a pattern ofEuropean expansionleading to cultural destruction,environ-mental collapse and physical extermination(Crosby 1986).
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